Many feel that the report of Justice JS Verma Committee could be a panacea for crime against women. But, perhaps, not all would really agree.
While most of the recommendations of this report are welcome, one would tend to infer that some of them are normative, general and not actionable at the cutting-edge level. Further, some suggestions are based on passion, which law does not permit.
However, the most glaring omission in the report relates to two critical elements in the rape laws. First is how to distinguish technical rapes from brutal rapes. Second, as experienced in the case of marriage-related crimes, how to curb vendetta complaints governed by the medieval adage – hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!
Cops would agree that many rape complaints have a texture of technical rape. A technical rape is one where the woman had at some point of time accorded consent for sexual intercourse. Some such cases are: live-in relationship turning sour, promise to marriage not redeemed, promise by a powerful person to get a top appointment or promotion for a lady and then unable to get one, dispute of a sex worker with her customer, or a minor falling in love with a boy or a man.
An overwhelming number of rape complaints received at police stations are of such technical rapes. Gang rapes like the December 16 Delhi incident are rarest of rare. So it was naturally expected that the committee would apply its mind on technical rapes and suggest tangible changes in law in this respect. However, this did not happen. So, both, a rape with non-fatal violence by a gang and a technical rape by a live-in partner of say a year or more, shall call for minimum seven years in jail. This anomaly needs to be straightened.
A corollary to the aspects of technical rapes is the misuse of law. Under section 114-A of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, the woman’s testimony shall be of a formidable nature with reference to the case. But then it is a known fact that there is a history of human acrimony which is specific to almost all cases of technical rapes, and to assign an overwhelming credence to a witness who has a mental pre-set shall not be just and fair.
That was precisely the reason why in cases of marriage-related offences, i.e. of 498-A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the Supreme Court had observed that “exaggerated versions of the incident are reflected in a large number of complaints”. The committee’s report does not tackle this issue of exaggerated versions in cases of technical rapes.
The report is also completely silent on the law of prostitution. Since prostitution without pimps and solicitation is legal in India, the practice of prostitution could curb rapes especially in cities that are flooded with male migrant workers. One of the reasons why rape is fewer in Mumbai, despite it being the glamour capital of India, is the widespread existence of red-light areas. It is very important for any just society to address itself to the sexual needs of its people in a thoughtful manner, taking the socio-economic constraints into consideration.
In fact, the committee could have applied its mind on how to overhaul the sex industry which flourishes in India in a big way and could have put forward draft rules for this industry. These draft rules could have included provisions for registration of prostitutes and essentials of professional conduct of those women who choose prostitution as their calling out of their own free will.
Recommendations such as reviewing the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 can have a demoralising effect of jawans fighting terrorists in places where few dare to tread. The safeguards therein for prior sanction for prosecution are to curb motivated complaints by terrorist elements to demoralise the police force.
Perhaps, the most important reason for the delay in trial of rape cases is manipulation of witnesses by the police in connivance with the accused. Such manipulation could take place by paying money or intimidation to make witnesses hostile, making witnesses untraceable and dropping critical witnesses during trial. The report has not addressed itself to this critical element.
Nevertheless, this report by itself is innovative and if the missing links are woven properly, it could indeed bring in a profound transformation.
(The author, a former IPS officer, is a practising lawyer)